The number of academic misconduct cases at the University of Manitoba continues to be significantly higher than it was before the pandemic, with inappropriate collaboration hitting a five-year high, according to a recently released report.
There were 1,127 cases of academic misconduct In 2021-22. That’s down slightly from 1,147 in 2020-21, but up from a pre-pandemic 706 in 2018-19, according to the university discipline committee’s annual report, which covers the period from Sept. 1, 2021 to Aug. 31, 2022.
There were 31,067 students at the university last year, compared with 31,020 in 2020-21 and 29,620 in 2018-19.
“The return to in-person learning and changes to assessment strategies may have reduced the opportunities for misconduct,” according to the report, which noted that 57 incidents from last year haven’t been resolved yet.
But one area where there was an increase was in inappropriate collaboration, defined as working with others when students should be working independently. There were 380 cases of inappropriate collaboration in 2021-22, up from 132 in the year earlier period and a five-year high.
Penalties for inappropriate collaboration included getting a mark of zero on an assignment, failing a course, temporary program suspension, as well as a notation on a student’s transcript, according to the discipline report.
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union doesn’t believe zero on an assignment or an automatic fail is fair to students, president Jaron Rykiss said Friday.
“There’s an inherent lack of understanding of what’s going on. There’s nothing to say that the amount of people who are participating academic dishonesty year over year is going to shift or change,” Rykiss said. “But what it does show is that there is a problem that hasn’t necessarily been addressed properly.”
He believes the school needs to work with students, and having a support system in place for them pertaining to inappropriate collaboration is paramount.
“There’s many questions that arise and I think that a static definition would help resolve those issues,” Rykiss said.
Sheryl Zelenitsky, the discipline committee chair, said the school will do whatever it needs to in order to maintain academic integrity.
The discipline committee has the final say at the university regarding academic appeals.
“Stress and a pandemic weren’t an excuse to take shortcuts,” she said.
And while penalties can vary, Zelenitsky said there’s consistency among how severe the penalties are, matching them to the infractions committed.
She is interested to see what the current school year’s numbers will be regarding academic misconduct.
“It’ll give us a better idea, I think, of how this in-person part of it, how that curtails maybe some of the misconduct that we saw during the pandemic,” Zelenitsky said.
Cheating, plagiarism up during the pandemic: report
The report also states that during the 2019-20 school year, there were 675 instances of cheating — up significantly from 93 the previous year, while plagiarism rose three consecutive years beginning with the 2017-18 academic year, from 214 to 470 by the end of the 2020-21.
Second-year student Lex Salangyt wasn’t surprised to hear of the increased cheating and plagiarism during the pandemic.
“Most people have more access and it’s more easy to get away with this because it’s all virtual now, so they can’t really tell if someone’s cheating or not during that time,” Salangyt said.
Those figures dropped to 365 and 358 for cheating and plagiarism, respectively, during the 2021-22 academic year.
“You need to understand what you’re doing, what you’re doing in order to succeed,” Salangyt said. “So if you’re just taking the short way, it’s not exactly helping you or anyone else.”
Fellow student Rayid Mahmoud agreed.
“We do have the individual work,” he said. “You don’t have to work with anyone else. If you do, it’s kind of cheating.”
Having endured virtual learning struggles and stresses in high school, he isn’t surprised by increased academic misconduct among students.
Mahmoud believes the university’s policy isn’t clear enough, especially for first-year students like himself, and he doesn’t feel all students commit infractions on purpose.
“There might be a reason for cheating but … it’s not something they choose to do,” he said.
Nursing student Heaven McPherson agreed.
“Each individual needs to be prepared … but I don’t think the students recognize that in the moment,” she said. “They just want to help each other, in the moment, and not think about the long run.”
She also said she believes some students simply don’t care, opting to break the rules regardless of the penalties.